Tuesday, February 11, 2014

PBS documentary traces Penn Station's rise, fall

Written by  William C. Vantuono, Editor-in-Chief

The PBS series AMERICAN EXPERIENCE will premiere “The Rise and Fall of Penn Station,” produced by Randall MacLowry, on Feb. 18, 2014 at 8:00 p.m.

In 1910, the Pennsylvania Railroad successfully completed the enormous
engineering feat of building tunnels under New York City’s Hudson and East
 Rivers, connecting the railroad to New York and New England, knitting
together the entire eastern half of the United States. The tunnels connected to what was one of the greatest architectural achievements of
 its
time, Pennsylvania Station.

Pennsylvania Station covered nearly eight acres, extended two city blocks, and housed one of the largest public spaces in
the
world. By 1917, 18 million Pennsylvania Railroad and Long Island Rail Road passengers traveled through Pennsylvania Station every year; by 1945, their numbers had swelled to more than 100 million, exceeding even the wildest dreams of the PRR president who had first envisioned the station and its supporting infrastructure in 1900, Alexander Cassatt.

But just 53 years after the station’s opening, the monumental
 building was slated to be destroyed. The financially strapped PRR, which had sold the air rights above the station, began demolition in October 1963 to make way for Madison Square Garden and two office towers. Protests fell largely on deaf ears.

As architectural historian Vincent J. Scully, Jr. famously lamented in 1968, when the new station was completed, “One once entered the city like a god; one scuttles in now like a rat.” In the wake of the station’s destruction, New York City established the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Grand Central Terminal was designated a historic landmark in 1967, sparing it and the people of New York from Pennylvania Station’s sad fate.

New, modern, and spacious LIRR and NJ Transit underground concourses constructed in the 1990s vastly improved Penn Station. Today, plans are under way to return the station to its former glory by repurposing the Farley Post Office Building on Eighth Avenue—which was designed by Charles McKim, the very same architect who had designed the original Penn Station—into the Daniel P. Moynihan Station, which will supplement Amtrak, NJ Transit, and LIRR’s existing facilities and possibly host Metro-North trains.